LI widow of sergeant sickened by burn pits calls for measures to help veterans
President Joe Biden addressed helping veterans suffering effects from burn pits during his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
Sgt. Bill McKenna never could get rid of the nasty chemical taste in his mouth. He told his wife Dina McKenna, of Long Island, that it was due to the constant toxic fog blowing over his base in Iraq.
"He said it was the worst smell or taste that he ever had, and he didn't know how to get rid of it," Dina McKenna says. "The smell was just bad."
McKenna was one of over 3 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to air poisons, partially from the use of open-air burn pits on military bases.
He died of T-cell lymphoma in 2010.
Since then, Dina McKenna and other advocates have been on a mission to attain health and disability coverage for veterans sickened by burn pits.
Biden is calling on Congress to do more to help veterans experiencing enduring health issues after exposure to burn pits.
"I'm announcing we're expanding eligibility of veterans suffering from nine respiratory cancers," Biden says. "I'm also calling on Congress to pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits of the comprehensive health care they deserve."
The House of Representatives are set to vote on the Honoring Our PACT Act on Thursday.
The measure would help veterans streamline their care and receive VA medical benefits.
Veterans say they face an uphill battle proving respiratory issues that they have are the result of exposures to burn pits.
"We have a lot more work to do," says veterans advocate John Feal of Nesconset, who says he expects a long battle to get the bill through.
Comedian and advocate Jon Stewart says that the president and Congress have taken notice. "We will not rest until it's done," said Stewart.
Dina McKenna says she wanted Biden to take action sooner but is hopeful the measures will help veterans struggling with the effects of burn pits.
"Do it now, make some changes now before other families have to lose and fight the battles to get any benefits," Dina McKenna says.